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Social networks and market research

Social Networks are here to stay. Adoption has been rapid and will continue to grow, helped along by the increasing availability of mobile devices that keep people connected to them wherever they may be.

The conversations within these networks are valid. The thoughts and views expressed, while sometimes provocative and often amusing, are genuine. Expressed by real people among peer groups that they themselves have chosen to form or join.

Market researchers place a pretty high priority on validity. We strive through qualitative and quantitative methods to render a view of the “truth” about the market place and the people who comprise that market. Indeed, the Market Research industry only has value as a consequence of our ability to render an unbiased view of the truth about what is happening in the world, outside of the Corporate HQ’s of our clients.

For many years researchers have worked with methods that engage respondents in focus group dicsussions and interviews to extract the “truth”. While these methods have served the research industry and it’s clients reasonably well, they suffer from many limitations, none more so than observational biases and acquiescence. In other words, the source material from which a perspective on the truth is built,  is flawed from the start. It is compromised as a direct consequence of the research process itself and the effect that process has on what people are and are not prepared to divulge through surveys and focus groups.

Social Networks now allow researchers to not only observe people in their “native” digital habitats. They also enable, through text mining technologies to codify and collate empirical evidence as to the incidence, nature and tone of conversations and how they relate to categories, brands, products and services.

As semantic classification of text becomes more potent, we may indeed see a significant shift away from conventional forms of both qualitative and quantitative research. Indeed, those who believe that the impact will be minimal or perhaps merely complimentary to existing methods should have a careful think about how “old-school” industries such as newspaper publishing and broadcast media are being torn down before our very eyes by digital democratisation and connectivity.

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